The Great Circle Spins

I’m taking a couple of weeks off to do some doctor things, and I thought  I’d take the opportunity to tell you about some Summertime things. This week’s podcast is about a summer rain. But right here, I want to tell you about my favorite little kid. 

Little Cecelia loves airplanes. I took her for a flight in my little four seat Piper while she was here last Summer, and I explained about the ailerons, and the rudder…and she understood. She’s smart. She not only understood, but evidently she gave a lecture on the subject to her day care class…complete with an “oh wow.” Our daughter Kris says Cecelia is quite convinced she can fly the airliner next time they come to visit.

There’s something genuinely magical about climbing into an airplane, and lifting off into the sky. A pilot-poet once said it was like… ”Reaching out to touch the face of God.” He was a nineteen year old kid…no he was a nineteen year old hero…who gave his life when his Royal Air Force Spitfire was shot down in the battle of Britan. It was World War 2. The RAF was mercilessly out numbered by Hitler’s Luftwaffe. Talk about flying with your back to the wall. Winston Churchill very famously said about that battle…”Never in history have so many owed so much to so few.” I’ve never had the honor of flying into battle for my country. But I’ve had the honor of flying…by myself…at night. And I’ve had the honor and joy of flying with my Lady Wonder Wench in our little airplane…just before Christmas. 

Christmas is the story of a little kid. I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to watch Christ as an infant…find his fingers. And learn to walk…and talk…like little Cecelia…and every little kid. Including you. And me. And my Lady Wonder Wench. There’s a very short story about flying with my Lady Wonder Wench on the night before Christmas in my book Staying Happy Healthy And Hot

Christmas and Summertime are the two engines that make the great circle spin for me. They teach such lessons. I was a lifeguard at Coney Island in Brooklyn when I was a kid. Bay 22. For the last few years I thought it might be lots of fun to go back there and swim where I used to walk the beach like I owned the place…and watched the pretty girls…and the fireworks…and wolfed down the pizzas and the hot dogs, and the clams on the boardwalk. The Lesson? I should have done it while the chance of doing it was there. Hurricane Sandy took that opportunity away. As “Big Louie” says in my book, “While you still have some moving parts left, for cryin’ out loud…MOVE ‘EM.”

I will never forget the lessons in a note about Summertime that came in from a proud podcast participant by the name of Dave a year ago. It went like this:

On summer evenings when I was a kid, lightning bugs were as symbolic of the season as Phil Rizzuto calling Yankee games on scratchy Sears transistor radios or Sabrett dogs from the truck near the old DeWitt theater.

We all vied to be the first to see the first lightning bug flash of the evening. It was somehow important, although I don’t know why. Firsts were, that was the way of it.

They were large and flew so slowly; easy to see and watch as they cruised silently in the humid city air. We seldom killed them, as we did mosquitoes; they were harmless, almost totemic symbols of summer. If one landed on your neck or shoulder and, thinking it a wasp or some such horror, you did smash it, you were left with a glowing streak on your fingers, and felt sad.

As I grew up and went to college, grad school and beyond, I sort of forgot about lightning bugs. For years I don’t remember seeing them at all on hot evenings. I have even wondered if they suffered a population crash from all the pesticides we sprayed around in the Sixties.

In 1986 I was driving with my first wife back north from her parents home in far southern New Jersey. We drove in the typical dense, angry silence that characterized the last year of our marriage. The car had no A/C so the windows had to be open, the wind noise making conversation thankfully impractical.

The roads down there are often unlit, and it was fully dark. The tension in the car, the heat, the fog all made the long drive depressing and spooky. As we crossed a bridge over Rancocas creek, I looked out into the darkness along the road and was entranced. The marshy banks of the creek seemed to be lined with Christmas trees. Hundreds, thousands of fireflys – no, lightning bugs – perched on the branches, hovered over the marsh grass, flitted over the black waters of the creek.

I pulled over, ignoring my wife’s complaints, and stared out the window into the hot night, staring at the countless winking cold lights, luciferase greenly oxidizing luciferin in the tails of a million ancient beetles along a dank South Jersey creek bed, all for me. For just a minute, I was no longer an unhappy, soon-to-be-single-again grad student with no money and little hope.

It was summer and I was the first to see the lightning bugs.”

Christmas and Summertime. The two engines that make the great circle spin.

Little Cecelia wanted her ears pierced for her birthday last year. She was three. Kris said “maybe when you get a little older.” Cecelia said, “You mean like when I’m four?” Any Louie-Louie Generation lad or lady knows how persistent a 3 year old can be, so Cecelia now has both ears pierced.” I said did it hurt ?” She said, “Of course Poppa. But I didn’t cry.” I said, “How come you didn’t cry?” She said “Because mommy said if I cry, I can’t get my ears pierced.” I just said…”Oh wow.” And we both clapped our hands and laughed. And went outside to wink at Neil Armstrong’s full moon. 

Cecelia winked with both eyes. Which was also a quick little lesson. If you’ve ever seen a little kid you love do that…you’ve learned that it’s one of those things that tend to make it kind of hard to keep your own eyes from geting a little wet.


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